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Fine Art Tiles With a Story to Tell

Part of the "Come Sail Away" series featuring a background recovered from a silent movie theater in Wausau, Wis. Each sailboat design is one of a kind.

Years ago, anyone wishing to enjoy the patterned art of a tin ceiling —popular in Victorian architecture—would suffer a crink in the neck as they looked up. But thanks to Nancy Fobert, tin ceiling remnants reclaimed and enhanced with color glazing live anew as contemporary wall art – no neck strain necessary.

Members of the College community and the public are invited to an artists’ reception featuring the glazed antique tin art tiles of Fobert Designs from 4:30-6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10 at Lightner Gallery in Lightner Library at Keuka College. Light refreshments and music will accompany the event and Fobert hopes guests will enjoy learning the stories and provenance, or origin, behind each unique piece.

A self-taught artist who has made her living by showcasing her unique creations at juried art festivals for the past seven years, Fobert and her husband, Gary, seek out antique tin ceilings across the country. They have now uncovered original tin ceilings or remnants of ceilings in 50 cities across 12 states, including the Brother’s Lounge jazz club in Cleveland where BB King and other greats played, Willard State Psychiatric Hospital near Ovid, N.Y., an old saloon in Florida, and a silent movie theater in Wausau, Wis.

Signature Butterfly Series pattern, crafted in the "Step In Time" format

When found, Gary Fobert will remove the original tin and transport it back to their home outside Watkins Glen, where he’ll clean off 100 years or more of grime. Depending on its appearance then, “that tells me if I’ll want to add color to the glaze or not,” Nancy Fobert said. While she prefers to keep specifics of her multi-layer process a trade secret, Nancy said she uses a combination of acrylics and signature glazes to enhance the beauty of the original tin patterns. Rather than use a traditional kiln, the couple lays pieces out under the sun to set the glaze.

A special three-panel commission featuring tin recovered from Mechanicsburg, Pa.: "Birch Tree Stand."

Typically, the tin comes from commercial or public properties, but sometimes from private homes, such as one family’s aged cabin in the Adirondacks. Most tin ceilings originated in the late 1800s when ornate plaster engravings adorning ceilings across Europe were desired for American architecture. However, America lacked the trained artisans of Europe, and tin ceilings—painted white—were an economic alternative to European plaster, particularly with the boon in steel and metals during the industrial revolution. Eventually, manufacturers began rolling tin out in sheets, impressing ornate patterns into the metal; squares of engraved tin were fitted together in a fashion similar to contemporary drop ceilings. Tin ceilings were popular through the 1930s.

"Point of View," crafted to resemble a stained glass window.

“They have their own story to tell as far as the history of where each piece comes from,” Nancy Fobert said, adding that the provenance of each tin is documented on the back of her finished “tiles.”

Admitting her craft is “definitely not traditional art,” Nancy Fobert says some of the pieces will be further enhanced with mirrors her husband embeds in cut tin, or wooden frames made by her 75-year-old father, an antiques dealer. In several pieces, small holes or physical elements resembling the keyhole of a door can be found, as she likes to say “I unlocked the beauty of the tin.”

“We felt like the world was missing out on this as an art material and that inspired us to save as much as possible by doing this. I love that we’re preserving part of history,” she says. While her fine art designs can complement many different styles of homes, she adds, “we don’t want to lose the character and integrity of the tin itself. We want you to feel that yes, you are looking at a piece of history, but now it’s made contemporary and cool.”

The Fobert Designs exhibit continues through Oct. 24 at Lightner Gallery and will include the College’s second annual Green & Gold Celebration Weekend. Plans are also in the works for Fobert to speak to art and design students on entering juried art shows.

According to Melissa Newcomb, assistant professor of art, her students can benefit from the opportunity to connect with a professional artist making a living in the field of high-end art. “A lot of students will look for ways to survive on their own as artists and Nancy’s a great example of how it can be done,” Newcomb says.

Rethinking First Impressions

American history is full of examples of people whose appearance, background, religion, sex, or race caused other people to discount them at the beginning, but who overcame that underestimation to make important contributions.

So said Dr. Christopher Leahy, professor of history and the 2014-15 Professor of the Year at Keuka College, in his keynote address Tuesday at academic convocation, which marks the official opening of the 2015-16 academic year. The ceremony includes a colorful processional with upperclassman bearing flags from around the world and faculty in regalia lining the sidewalk to Norton Chapel and applauding new students as they enter. This year, a record-setting number of new students experienced this symbolic rite of passage.

In Dr. Leahy’s address, the eight-year faculty veteran challenged students to resist the temptation to discount what someone else might teach them because of “superficial attributes.” He gave two examples from American history of individuals initially underestimated who defied expectations to make an undeniable mark: Al Smith, a NY State Assemblyman and four-term governor, and Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist and one-time Congressional candidate from Mississippi.

New members of the Keuka College Class of 2019.

“People underestimated both Al Smith and Fannie Lou Hamer,” Dr. Leahy contended. “In Smith’s case, his colleagues in the NY State Assembly believed they had nothing to learn from a Bowery Irishman whose accent and (Catholic) religion were suspect. In Hamer’s case, her impoverished background, her race—and her sex—led white Mississippians to doubt her resolve and ability to effect change… Enough people doubted them, or told them they could not succeed, that they might have started to believe it themselves. Yet they did not.”

According to Dr. Leahy, Smith’s lack of formal education and Catholic background garnered condescension from Ivy League-educated legislators from elsewhere in the state, when he first won his Assembly seat in 1903. Yet Smith fought to prove himself, committing legislative bills to memory, sponsoring bills of his own, and leading the commission investigating the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911. Ultimately, Smith was elected governor of New York in 1917, served four terms and became the first Catholic to earn the Democratic nomination for U.S. President in 1928.

The granddaughter of slaves and child to sharecropper parents, Hamer became a vocal activist in the civil rights movement, literally singing hymns to scores of African-Americans riding buses to voter registration stations throughout the state. Famous for the line “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Hamer endured an arrest, jail beating and other persecutions to rally African-Americans and white students in the North to support civil rights. Her work helped bring national attention to the Civil Rights Bill championed by Pres. Lyndon Johnson in 1964. In addition to a run for Congress, Hamer also fought to win seats for African-American delegates of the Mississippi Freedom Party at the Democratic National Convention; stymied in 1964, she succeeded by 1968.

Dr. Leahy even shared a personal instance of underestimation: as a high school sophomore in Baltimore, Leahy complained to a friend after just one class that his new European history teacher, Dr. Dan Allen, was a boring government bureaucrat with a funny accent. But Leahy learned quite a lesson as Dr. Allen—who’d overheard the complaints —dismantled every presumption Leahy made, in the next class and over the course of the year.

Professor of the Year Dr. Christopher Leahy, right, with President Díaz-Herrera.

An embarrassed Leahy was surprised to learn that Dr. Allen had a background in military intelligence with the U.S. Air Force, and spent four years working as the American embassy’s military expert in Czechoslovakia. Further, Dr. Allen was a friend of Dr. Jeane Kirkpatrick, the Georgetown University professor who helped shape American policy during the Cold War as Pres. Ronald Reagan’s Ambassador to the United Nations. Dr. Allen eventually became one of Leahy’s favorite teachers and inspired him to pursue a doctorate of his own.

Dr. Leahy closed with a 1910 quote from President Theodore Roosevelt that advocates credit be given to the individual who “strives valiantly,” in spite of coming short, “spends himself in a worthy cause;” and who ultimately experiences either the enthusiasms and devotions of high achievement or who “at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.’”

Brief remarks to welcome new students were also shared Tuesday by College President Dr. Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera and Alan Ziegler, vice-chair of the Board of Trustees. The president encouraged students that the College will prepare them for the journey of their professional life, particularly through developing individuals who know how to apply digital technology within the context of their respective professions. The College’s Digital Learning@Keuka College (DL@KC) initiative includes a digital studies minor and incorporates digital literacy throughout the curriculum.

“My advice to you, Class of 2019, is to learn as much about this as you can. Learn to read and write code, the new literacy,” Dr. Díaz-Herrera challenged, posing questions aspects of DL@KC could answer within a number of academic majors. “You will learn that you have the power to do amazing things. When you graduate from Keuka College you will have that thread of digital literacy woven through all aspects of your education.”

Click here for more photos from Academic Convocation

‘This World is Ready for You’

New York Lieutenant Governor Robert J. Duffy

If service is “the rent we pay to be on this earth,” then Lt. Governor Robert Duffy believes the spirit of service epitomized in the Keuka College Class of 2014 is what ought to be held up to children and others as an example.

In his address at the 106th Commencement today, Duffy cited the devastation caused by the storms and floods in Yates County a little over one week ago, and praised the students who volunteered time during the final week of classes to help people in their worst time of need. Nearly 200 College students and staff traveled into Penn Yan and Branchport after the flooding, cleaning out homes and businesses of those impacted and together contributing more than 1,000 service hours.

While the media grants attention to celebrities for little more than what they’re wearing or what event they attend “I would suggest that as opposed to the reality show, “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” maybe ‘Keeping up with Keuka College’ might be a better show,” Duffy said, to rousing applause.

As such, Duffy admitted there was little a typical graduation speech could offer this class in the way of advice: “Folks, there’s nothing I can tell you about what to do – you’ve shown what this world is all about and really, what this day is all about. You’ve proven that, not with words, but with actions. That, to me, speaks volumes of who you are, what you stand for and what this institution stands for.”

Senior Class President Darrcy Matthews

The sole suggestion Duffy offered was to create a life worth living, one to be proud of 20 to 50 years down the road, and to use a unique practice – writing your own eulogy—to structure it.

“Sit down and think – what would you want your family, children, spouse, friends, neighbors or coworkers to say about you at that time?” he asked. “Write those words out, then do your best to live that life … now. Live every single day like it’s your last month, and you will do extraordinary things.

“I think this world is ready for you,” Duffy continued. “It’s a tough world out there, but one that needs you, needs good, smart, driven people to come out and help change it. By how you carry yourself and really, with what you did in your spirit of service here in Penn Yan, I think this world, this state and this community is going to be in great shape.”

During the ceremony, Duffy received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, presented by Ms. G. Jean Howard-Cherubim, his former Chief of Staff during his tenure as Rochester mayor. Howard-Cherubim was the first female African-American to serve in the Rochester City Chief of Staff role and is currently serving her second term as a member of the Board of Trustees.

An honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree was also presented to sculptor Dexter Benedict, professor emeritus of art, who served the College over a span of 32 years before retiring in 2010. Renowned regionally and nationally for his works, Benedict continues to create fine art through his Fire Works Foundry and Sculpture Studio in Penn Yan.

Dr. Anne Weed, vice president for academic affairs, presents Prof. Benedict with a doctoral hood.

Also honored during the ceremony was Dr. Catherine Abbott, professor of mathematics, who was named Professor of the Year, and praised as “a dedicated educator who exhibits great enthusiasm for learning and a keen desire” for student success. According to students, Abbott makes courses “exciting and engaging” and always takes time to provide extra help. Indeed, one student cited wrote that were Abbot to be graded, she’d receive an A-plus. Meanwhile, Abbott is credited by her division chair for bringing about transformation of the mathematics department, which has grown during her time there to include three full-time faculty, two majors, and two minors. In addition to strong advising, Abbott regularly supports recruiting activities, and has provided invaluable leadership on faculty governance committees.

In additional activity at Commencement:

• An Award of Higher Education was presented to Oksana Kahl, Amanda Ward and Erica Webb, three students from the DRIVE (Diversity, Respect, Inclusion, Vision and Experiential Learning) program, a collaboration of Penn Yan Central School District, Yates ARC and Keuka College. In the program, Keuka College students serve as peer mentors to young adults with intellectual disabilities as they assimilate into the college environment and explore their personal goals.

• Vickie Tobias, database manager in Informational Technology Services, was named Staff Member of the Year in the award’s inaugural season.

• A new visual identity for the College was unveiled by Dr. Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera, College president, who also praised the class of 2014 for bringing early credibility to the school’s new brand signature, “Believe in What We Can Do Together,” through flood relief efforts.

View More Photographs from the 106th Commencement

Keuka Students, Teachers Embrace Eastern Europe

After almost two years of modern-day “pen pal” communication via Skype, a number of Keuka College education majors finally met – in person – the Slovakian high school students they previously saw on the computer screen.

Vrable high school students meet their American online "pen pals"

This group Field Period included education majors, taught by Dr. Denise Love and Dr. Klaudia Lorinczova, both assistant professors of education, and other Keuka students, including several visual and verbal art majors taught by Melissa Newcomb, assistant professor of art. The Keuka Field Period is a required annual internship or exploratory study of 140 hours.

Clock Tower by Michael Fisher

Seventeen students, two faculty members and two parent chaperones traveled overseas in early June to visit the cities of Prague, Nitra, Bratislava and Vienna. Over 11 days, Newcomb directed students in photographic study of architecture and culture while Lorinczova led an exploration of Slovakian education and other unique social, political and cultural traditions of her home country and its European neighbors. Students had already gone through weeks of “pre-teaching” in advance of the trip, learning from Lorinczova a number of cultural anomalies to expect and reviewing a manual on basic digital photography with Newcomb, as well as gaining a basic understanding of architectural styles such as Baroque, Gothic or Rococo.

A last-minute foot injury kept Love confined at home, but ultimately, she was able to coordinate from the couch, helping the two professors “on the ground” navigate unexpected challenges almost as soon as they cropped up. The first biggie: severe flooding in many portions of Prague – the first stop on the trip –shortly after the group arrived. Love offered advice and assistance with the travel agency as the group moved around Prague and then on to other cities, and communicated with Newcomb and Lorinczova via daily Skype sessions.

Floods by Sarah Hillman

All three professors recommended “an anchor” back home, given the benefits gleaned in this experience. The three professors had previously structured the trip to include student reflections in words and images, utilizing online blogs as electronic journals. The blogs proved a saving grace for worried parents back home who heard news reports of the flooding much earlier than the students themselves. And while students did post a few photos of flooded streets and commentary on dealing with nonstop rains, images of cathedrals, statues, gardens, public squares, restaurants and cafes far outnumbered them.

Keuka Group on tour by Melissa Newcomb

In the words of Sarah Hillman ‘13, a final, rainy day in Prague was salvaged with a spur-of-the-moment museum tour, where the whole group saw “paintings, sculptures, and other works from Alfons Mucha and Salvador Dali. They were great!” (more…)

Students, Community Residents Team Up to Make a Difference Through Celebrate Service… Celebrate Yates

By Desiree Ford ’13

Volunteers got their green thumbs together for the Community Garden

On Sunday, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Jim Blackburn welcomed the 184 volunteers for the Celebrate Service…Celebrate Yates (CSCY)  community service day  by sharing the new Keuka College mission statement:“To create exemplary citizens and leaders to serve the nation and the world of the 21st century.”

Dean Blackburn welcomes volunteers to the kickoff ceremony (Stephanie Lockhart '15)

For the 16th year, CSCY volunteers showed just how exemplary members of the College and community truly are by stepping up to serve 24 non-profit agencies across Yates County. Each year, non-profits, including youth camps, community centers, churches, libraries, fire departments and more gain a helping hand from area residents and Keuka students  who come together to pitch in on spring cleaning projects.

CSCY is a collaboration between the College and Yates County Chamber of Commerce, with support from local merchants and business sponsors.

Community service is nothing  new for Class of 2016 members Preston Vick, Jake Altman, and Rich Weit, who signed up for CSCY with other members of the Keuka men’s soccer team. While CSCY is not something the players are required to do, team members still volunteer for the day, Altman said. The trio worked with others to rake leaves  at Camp Cory on the east side of Keuka Lake,